Bad Teeth, Dustin Long
Published March 25th 2014 by New Harvest
Four interlocking narratives set in four American cities form a richly comic feast about love, academia, an elusive Tibetan novelist—and SOFA, a protest group so mysterious its very initials are open to interpretation.
Bad Teeth follows a cast of young literary men and women, each in a period of formation, in four very American cities—Brooklyn, Bloomington, Berkeley, and Bakersfield. A Pynchonesque treat, it’s four (or more) books in one: a bohemian satire, a campus comedy, a stoner’s reverie, and a quadruple love story. The plots coalesce around the search for a mysterious author, Jigme Drolma (“the Tibetan David Foster Wallace”), who might in fact be a plagiarist. But how does the self-styled arch-magician Nicholas Bendix figure into this? What will happen when SOFA unleashes the “Apocalypse”? And what’s to become of Lump, the cat?
I don’t even know where to begin with this review. This book contains four parts as the story moves from Brooklyn, to Bloomington, back and forth in time to Berkley and ending in Bakersfield. As we begin Judas is attempting to find a Tibetan author in the hopes of translating his next novel. Maybe he’s a plagiarist, maybe he’s a brilliant author-who’s to tell? The book meanders all over the country from there. I enjoyed how the flow moved overall from perspective to perspective and time and place. There were a few direct interjections into the book of the author speaking directly to the reader and those I found to be somewhat jarring. It was enough for me to switch man to woman, drunk to sober, city to city. I did not need this additional break in the flow-though the snarky comments about his own characters did make me laugh. Such as:
He went away feeling sorry for himself: seeing himself as Candide and wondering why he had even bothered moving here. But the reader shouldn’t feel too sorry for him, as he was ignoring all of the times in his life when he had been the one who had acted like a total dick to someone else. He tended to express his aggression more passively than Walter and his friends, of course, but at least they were open about who they were. Judas, on the other hand, pretended even to himself that he was sweet, romantic, and innocent when in fact he was just as competitive, lustful, and petty as any of them. Which is to say that he kind of deserved to have his finger broken.
The synopsis calls the parts “ a bohemian satire, a campus comedy, a stoner’s reverie, and a quadruple love story” and while I would say I found all of these but the love story in Bad Teeth, I think this could all be summed up as a bohemian satire. The characters are full of self-importance and low on ambition. I don’t think I really found any love, but there was plenty of lust. I didn’t really connect with these characters, but I did enjoy them overall. The “Apocalypse” planned by SOFA (who are they?!) is referred to throughout but does not happen within the book which was kind of disappointing to me. I almost wish SOFA had been more fleshed, but I understand that would have also defeated Long’s purpose of the group.
I’m still not entirely sure what I read — and I am not satisfied I learned what became of Lump the cat! The reviews I have seen have readers displeased with the ending, but I liked the end. I felt I had enough resolution on the characters that I wanted to read about anyway. I felt this was worth a read for the laughs for sure, and there were some really thoughtful passages that I enjoyed. If you’re looking for something different to read, this is it.
Last thought-I love this cover! Just kind of cool!
Thank you NetGalley and New Harvest for this advanced copy for review.